City rethinks policy that quadruples landscaping costs

CLS Landscape Management has been in business since 1983 and maintains five cities. Photo: CLS Landscape ManagementCLS Landscape Management has been in business since 1983 and maintains five cities.
Photo: CLS Landscape Management

In California, the Claremont City Council got a rude awakening following a report that showed only one landscape company had bothered to bid on maintaining the city parks and right-of-ways.

The landscaping companies’ reluctance to bid for the work apparently was due to the California city’s new request that landscapers not use any chemicals or leaf blowers, to remove all weeds, and to increase the amount of mulch used in planters.

CLS Landscape Management, which currently has the contract with Claremont, was the only company to submit a bid. Its current contract is $657,068 a year and allows the company to use battery or electric blowers, limited amounts of chemicals, and varying degrees of weeds are tolerated.

With the new parameters, CLS offered to do the job at $3 million a year.

According to Interim Community Services Director Pat Malloy, other landscapers cited a need for chemicals to kill all weeds and said they had an insufficient number of employees to meet the city’s new requirements.

“It does look as if business as usual is going to cost us more,” Councilman Joe Lyons told The Claremont Courier.

In the proposal, CLS said it would raise the price to only $1,505,589 annually if the council allowed the landscaping company to continue using its electric blowers and chemicals. If gasoline-powered blowers also were allowed, CLS said, it would do the work for $996,088.

Following the report, the city council negotiated an extension period with CLS under which the company will continue working under the current stipulations until April 27, 2017, with a 10-percent boost in the value of the contract. The extension will cost $722,775 while the city considers its options.

“[The extension] will give us time to step back and reevaluate the city’s positions on our landscape maintenance,” Mallory said.

The staff recommended a $30,000 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review, which will allow the city to possibly change two mandates in the Claremont Municipal Code. As of right now, leaf blowers are banned on city-owned properties, yet the current contract allows electric blowers to be used.

The CEQA review would consider whether gas-powered leaf blowers could be used if they met standards of the South Coast Air Quality Management and city noise codes.

“We’re really clear on the council directive on wanting to be chemical-free, leaf-blower free, everything free, but as you see, nothing’s free,” said Tony Ramos, city manager.

Another council member suggested a policy change instead of using a CEQA review, but Ramos pointed out that the city could face a lawsuit if proper CEQA channels are not used.

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